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PHP is one of the most popular scripting languages on the Internet today. According to W3Techs, PHP is used by over 78% of all websites that use a server-side programming language. This means that for almost every 8 out of 10 websites you visit, they most likely use PHP in one form or another, which also means that PHP is not dead. And, of course, it plays a very important role in the WordPress ecosystem, as the entire CMS is built on PHP.
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A dilemma we face today is that many companies, developers and hosts have fallen behind when it comes to supporting the latest PHP versions. Some of the statistics below might even shock you. Today we want to discuss some of the reasons why it is so important for everyone to use the latest PHP versions, not only for security reasons, but also for better performance and support.
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Like any program, PHP has a release life cycle that must be followed to keep pushing things forward and making improvements. Each major release of PHP is usually fully supported for two years after release. During this time, bugs and security issues are fixed and patched regularly.
End of life means that these releases will no longer have security support and may be exposed to unpatched security vulnerabilities.
According to the official WordPress Statistics page, at the time of this writing, more than 55% of WordPress users are still on PHP 7.4 or lower. If you combine this with other end-of-life PHP versions, 85% of users are now using PHP versions that are no longer supported as of November 2022.
It’s even scarier if you look at the statistics outside of the WordPress community. According to W3Techs, PHP 5 is currently used by 22.9% of all websites using PHP.
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85% of WordPress users are now using PHP versions that are no longer supported! 😮 Click to Tweet
This is not only bad from a security point of view, but also because there are still a large portion of WordPress sites that do not take advantage of the additional performance improvements with PHP 8.1.
The main reason for the lack of faster adoption for new releases is likely due to several different factors:
However, with all that said, it’s still no excuse for running on outdated, unsupported PHP versions that could actually slow down your WordPress site. The good news is that some progress is being made. You can see that PHP still has a large market share and it’s not going anywhere.
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One of the most important reasons to update PHP is to ensure that you are running on a fully supported version that is regularly patched for security vulnerabilities. PHP 5.4 hasn’t been patched since 2015. And PHP 5.5 hasn’t been patched since 2016. But it’s important to note that some OS vendors still update older versions of PHP if they include it.
According to CVE Details, 2016 was one of the worst years for PHP security vulnerabilities, with over 100 issues reported. These include DoS, code execution, overflow, memory corruption, XSS, directory traversal, circumvention, and obtaining type information. 2017 was the third worst year since 2,000, with more than 40 vulnerabilities.
PHP, like any other major system, is under constant investigation and improvement. Each new release will include both major and minor changes to improve security and fix any bugs, misconfigurations, and other issues that will affect the overall security and stability of your system. As with other system-level scripting languages and programs, the best approach is to update frequently and stay up-to-date with the latest versions and changes. PHP, stay tuned
With the release of PHP 7.2, 7.3, 7.4 and 8.0 came huge performance gains! 8.1 shows even more progress, and 8.2 has just been released. Although PHP 7.4 is no longer supported, we do support versions 8.0 and 8.1. So great, in fact, that it should be a priority for many of the small optimizations you might play with on your WordPress site.
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We also ran our own PHP benchmarks. And like the references above, I’ve seen PHP 8.0 and 8.1 execute transactions (requests) per second considerably faster than older versions.
Christian Vigh also published a PHP performance comparison where he found that PHP 5.2 was 400% slower than PHP 7.
Support is another reason why you want to use the latest and supported PHP version. Often plugin and theme developers can only extend back support for older versions so far. This lof is due to time constraints and they don’t have time to test compatibility. Things will eventually break when you’re running on older versions and you can see what’s happening directly on the WordPress forums. Here’s a common error, usually caused by an old version of PHP and the way it handles a certain function:
You can do a search on the WordPress forums for “Unexpected T_Function” and it returns over 2,000 threads, many with results from the last couple of days. Here are just a few recent ones, all due to running older versions of PHP:
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Many of these threads are open due to running on outdated versions of PHP. However, the same could be said about the threads that were opened due to PHP 7 compatibility issues. Which shows that the WordPress development community is still trying to catch up with new versions of PHP.
Most WordPress developers would prefer to work only on new versions of PHP if they could, simply because many new features were added between PHP 5.2 and PHP 7.4. Some changes with PHP 7 and 7.3:
It’s no fun supporting old versions of something. Unfortunately, many developers are stuck in supporting a wide range of versions.
And right behind that comes PHP 8.1 and PHP 8.2. Both include new features, deprecations and changes.
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Yoast recently published a great article called “Wipping Your Host Into Shape”. In the article, Joost de Valk goes into detail about how the real problem is that hosting providers don’t adopt this faster, and even if they do, they don’t encourage users to upgrade. And Yoast will do something about it. Starting with Yoast SEO 4.5, a notification will be displayed on the WordPress dashboard for sites running on PHP 5.2. This notification will be big, ugly, and cannot be delayed.
PHP 7 is the future (and boy is it nice and fast). 🚀 — Joost de Valk via @yoast @ Click to Tweet
If we could give Yoast a high five, we totally would! has supported the latest stable versions of PHP 7.2, 7.3, 7.4 and 8.0 since the stable releases.
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Update: PHP 8.1 (the official version) is now available to all customers. PHP 7.4 is no longer supported in . Please note that we support PHP versions 8.0 and 8.1
We’re dedicated to running the fastest and most secure environment on the market, and that means making sure all sites use technology that actively receives security updates.
Check out our in-depth guide and step-by-step instructions on how to safely update PHP on your WordPress site.
You may not know what version of PHP is currently on your WordPress site. Check out these different ways below to find out.
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One of the easiest ways to check what version of PHP you’re running is to use a tool like Pingdom or Google Chrome Devtools. The first HTTP request header will usually show you the version.
Header value. Some may disapprove of this due to security concerns. If they do, you may not see your PHP version, in which case you should use one of the other options below. Or you can always contact your host and ask.
If you are using WordPress 5.0 or later, you can see your PHP version in the “Site Settings” tool.
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Then go to your file location, domain.com/phpinfo.php. You should then see a readout of your current PHP version.
We realize that there are still thousands of WordPress sites that are incompatible with newer versions of PHP, whether it’s due to an old plugin or theme. The challenge is for less tech-savvy users or those on a budget, what is the best course of action? We deal all the time with customers migrating to and as PHP versions reach their EOL.
Ready to upgrade? Great, but one of the first things you should do is test your site to ensure compatibility. You can test your WordPress site locally, or better yet, use a staging environment like this one
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